Three Guys and a Podcast

Three Guys and a Podcast: Apple News & Analysis

June 20, 2012 at 11:25pm Pacific Time
by: E. Werner Reschke
Categories: Predictions, Products

Surface

If you didn't follow the Microsoft Special Event yesterday afternoon, you missed a real treat. It's a rare occasion when watching Microsoft attempt to steal every single move from Apple, and their presentation came closer than ever before. From the secrecy surrounding Surface, to the event being sprung on the media this past Thursday, the entire event came across as a Redmond retread of Cupertino's panache. But the event didn't hurt Apple. The big hurt came down upon Microsoft's hardware partners. From product stand to keyboard cover, Microsoft declared enemies on multiple fronts. Tablet OEMs to accessory makers, Microsoft is aiming for you.

The pitch from Ballmer was crystal clear: Surface has a built-in kickstand and a keyboard that acts as a cover too, which means you should buy our tablet. The tertiary note was that Surface would run Microsoft Office. How many sheeple are left to buy into this latest pitch has yet to be seen, but based on Lumina sales, not many.

Confusion should reign supreme once Surface ships, as there are two completely different products claiming the same Surface name. An RT version is based on an nVIDIA ARM processor, and a Pro version, which will run Intel's latest Ivy Bridge chip set. The two couldn't be more different. Microsoft is heavily marketing the RT version, as it's weight and thickness are nearly identical to iPad. The Pro model is heavier, thicker and has a cooling vent system... Think of a notebook with the screen glued onto the base, and that's the Surface Pro.

Microsoft was light on specifics, so much is unknown about the Surface product. Obvious weak spots Redmond is keen to try and cover up start with what Microsoft calls their ClearType screen, yet Microsoft refused to divulge the resolution. Consider the screen ClearMarketing, nothing more. Battery life is also a Surface mystery, with Microsoft only revealing the wattage of both RT and Pro products. Price was another element MIA. Microsoft officials would only say that the RT will be priced in the range of other similar ARM-based products (AKA iPad), while the Pro Surface will be priced around comparable UltraBook products (think $899 starting). An iPad killer? Not likely.

But big questions and larger problems surround Surface. If Surface were to start gaining broad market acceptance, it may ding Apple but much more so the flailing Android tablet market, and it would certainly cripple their OEM partners. HP, Dell, Lenovo and Samsung are clearly in Microsoft's cross hairs with Surface. While it's common place for large corporations to have partnerships in one area yet compete in another, it's an entirely different animal when Microsoft encourages partnering for Windows tablets, then comes out and declares war on those partnerships with their own product.

Such a move is virtually unheard of unless the end-game is to completely wipe out partners over time, replacing them with a slew of direct solutions. Google purchased Motorola, but merely as a launch tool for new Android solutions, not to destroy Samsung or HTC. Microsoft talked about how important their partners were, but Ballmer also made it clear that in some markets direct is the answer, and this was such a time. Truth be told, if ever there was a time Ballmer was speaking out of both sides of his mouth, last night was it.

Microsoft didn't just step lightly into the waters, they dove in head first into the deep end. Dell, HP, Samsung, anyone, needs to fire back at their software master, declaring they will no longer be pursing Windows 8 tablet hardware, instead focusing their efforts on Android solutions as a result of Microsoft's actions.

Will any OEM's dare make such a move against the Redmond giant? Not likely, but it should be done. Microsoft is attacking PC sales of all sorts with Surface, while cutting out their OEMs in the all-to-critical tablet market at the same time. As Steve Ballmer said, "Surface is a tablet and a PC". If that wasn't a two-handed slap to Microsoft's OEM partners, nothing is.

It's clear that Microsoft is hanging onto their Windows and Office positions by a thread in the mobile space and Surface is a clear desperation move. With Microsoft in such a weak position, a company like Samsung could put Redmond on their heels should they pull out of Windows 8 tablet development. It's a move that could lead to a chain reaction, leaving Microsoft to listen to their partners instead of attempting to run them out of the tablet business.

Few Microsoft apologists are keen in seeing the software company attempting to be the next Apple, fusing hardware and software together as a complete solution. Certainly, if Surface is any indication of how well they'd do at this, Surface should live a short life against iPad, while taking out their hardware partners in the process.

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